The Sting: Once bitten, twice shy. Close encounters of the wasp-nest kind

As a middle-aged woman, whenever I meet new people I’m inevitably asked, “Do you have children?” My first response, “No,” quickly turns to “Actually, yes, but they are covered in hair and will never grow up and move out.”

Fellow dog owners can, no doubt, relate; these little fur-covered children become your family so fast that you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to keep them healthy and safe.  

When I first got Lexie, aka “Itchy Dog,” I knew she had some allergy issues and a big personality. What I didn’t realize is that she’s prone to the same bad luck as her own

er. In this, we have bonded.

A few weeks ago, we both learned yet another life lesson together. It was a September afternoon after a long walk — a perfect day to enjoy the warmth of the sun, the smell of the grass, an end-of-season swim and a leisurely ride in the kayak. As I paddled to shore with Lexie swimming beside me, she jumped out of the water and did what she normally does when she has wet skin; she rolled in the dirt.

Unfortunately, this time around, she inadvertently rolled right onto a wasp nest. I noticed her twitching and flinching as she ran onto the dock. Then I saw the swarm.

My first reaction was to yell, “Jump in the lake!” — somehow forgetting that as a dog she wouldn’t have a clue what I was saying. She stared at me with big, panicked eyes and I leapt into action. I picked her up and dove into the lake with her — clothes, shoes and all.

Once I got involved, they attacked me too, leaving sting after sting on my hands. Ouch! I understood Lexie’s pain! Once we hit the cool, wet water, the wasps dug into my dog’s skin in an effort to stay alive. I pulled them off as quickly as I could. My other dog, Dora, watched us from the dock. Worried, I told her to come in and the smart Border Collie in her understood. I really couldn’t handle another victim to this angry swarm.

After submerging Lexie and getting most of the wasps off of her, I then ushered both dogs up the hill to the cottage. Lexie ran with tail tucked, clearly in distress.

In the few seconds it took to reach the top, maddening thoughts were running through my head. Since she’s allergic to everything, is she also allergic to wasps? Will she go into anaphylactic shock? What do you do for that? Can dogs take EpiPens?

My hands started to swell. I was in pain from all the stings, and yet, I worried about my dogs.

Once we ran inside, Lexie immediately crawled under the nearest bed and remained there, out of reach, refusing to budge. Fears of suffocation and convulsions started to take over my brain. I thought I would lose my dog simply because I couldn't get to her from four feet away. I was so overcome that I began to cry. Lying on the bedroom floor, sobbing and feeling helpless, I felt a cold nose touch my hand. It was Lexie, shaking and clearly worried about me. She assured me that we were both in this together.

I then ran to the bathroom and found a Benadryl; there was only one left and she needed it more than I did even though my hands were beginning to resemble Mickey Mouse’s. I covered the pill in peanut butter and offered it to her. For the first time ever, Lexie refused peanut butter. I jammed the pill into her mouth and held her snout until she swallowed.

With my phone in one hand and my poor itchy dog in the other, I researched what to do next.

There was plenty of advice online telling me to get her to a vet within ten minutes if she was having trouble breathing. Not helpful. Even in the city, my vet is more than ten minutes away. I felt helpless and afraid and all I could do was wait and see.

For an hour, Lexie lay curled in a tight little ball as I listened to her breathing. I applied a baking soda poultice to ease the pain and draw out the venom from the stings. I also gave her some dog painkillers from an earlier incident in the hopes of easing her suffering. Eventually, she dozed a little and stopped shaking. I finally started to breath again.

After a few hours, she started to resemble my dog again: a sweet face, a happy lick, and a desire to go out for another walk. I was beyond relief and while my hands recovered after three days, I certainly didn’t want that to happen ever again.

But it did. Two weeks later, Lexie was running along the shore while I paddled in the lake on my kayak. Intent on keeping up with me, she raced through the trees and down to each dock along the shore. As she bulleted past an enormous angry wasp nest, she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and the movie replayed all over again. 

This time, I wasn’t with her. Watching her from the lake, I saw her stop, twitch, swat and then run around in circles—the same frantic body movements as last time. I leapt into action, paddling to shore, then jumping out of the kayak with bare feet and running up the rocky slope shouting for her to come. It was a repeat performance, but this time, she swelled up even more. The side of her face ballooned to twice its size and she looked like she was wearing a toupee on her head from the stings.

On the bright side, I felt much more prepared this time, despite the obvious discomfort. Round Two affected Lexie more, leaving me mindful of the cumulative effect of such traumatic experiences on both dogs and their humans. I decided to dig into all this a little deeper to prepare myself for next time.

Here’s what the experts advise:

  •  Don’t use a human dosage EpiPen on a dog. The dosage can kill them. 
  • Always have Benadryl or another dog-safe antihistamine on hand for yourself and your pet. Dosage for Benadryl for dogs is 1mg per pound of body weight.
  • Dogs can go into shock when they get stung. Keep them warm with a towel, stay close and comfort them.
  • Make sure they have access to water.
  • Create a soothing poultice of baking soda and water. Make it into a paste and apply it to affected areas. 
  • Make sure you know the location of all vets in your area, including after-hours clinics in case of emergency.
  • Put together a first aid kit for your dog. Your local vet or holistic vet can tell you which medicinal drug options and natural options to put into it.
  • Watch out for digger wasps in the fall when they are most aggressive. They like to burrow in the ground in old mouse holes.

Itchy dog recovered nicely. Now we’re left dealing with her utter hatred of wasps. Each time she sees one, she attacks it mid-air, chews it into oblivion, spits it out and stomps on it.

Whatever makes her feel better, I suppose. Who can blame her?

Originally published in Dogs Eyes Magazine.